This is why getting aid to survivors of Typhoon Haiyan is so slow and difficult

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: Joining me now here in the studio is The World's Jason Margolis. Jason, you spent a couple of weeks in the Philippines a few years ago reporting on an oil spill that impacted this same area where the typhoon hit, right? Jason Margolis: Yeah. So I was about 280 miles to the west of Tacloban, on a few islands that are part of what's called the Visayas region. Just beautiful, beautiful islands. Without question one of the most incredible places I've ever been on this planet. Werman: And remind us a bit about the geography of the Philippines. Margolis: So the Philippines is an archipelago. It's 7,107 islands and all told the landmass equals a little more than the state of Arizona. So as you can imagine, thousands of these islands are really tiny. I stayed on one called Nagarao which you could walk the entire perimeter in about a half hour. And these islands are home to fisherman. They live right on the shore. It's been that way for generations and generations. Those islands were hit by the typhoon. Hundreds of people are reported dead and it's likely thousands are suffering. We just don't know how many have been impacted because it's hard to reach these places. Werman: So thousands of islands, most of them have no bridges or connected to each other. So what are these infrastructural challenges that the Philippines faces getting food to those people? I mean, what was it like where you were? Margolis: Well, okay. So let me explain how I got to Nagarao, that tiny island where you could walk the perimeter in a half hour. So I flew into Manila from the United States on a big plane. Then I got on a smaller plane and went to the city of Iloilo. From there, I got on a ferry and went to another island and got on a jeep and drove across that island for about a half day on these unpaved roads. From there, I got off the jeep and got on an outrigger canoe. All told, that was about three days to reach my destination. So that was during good times and you can imagine how difficult it would be with these roads and bridges probably destroyed and they're carrying massive amounts of food, and medical supplies, and other necessities. Werman: And that's pretty much typical anywhere in the Philippines. I've spoken with Peace Corp. volunteers who've served there. It's all about those motorized outrigger canoes. What are the roads like in the Philippines? Margolis: Well according to the CIA's World Fact Book, about 25% of the roads in the Philippines are paved. That's a far lower number than surrounding countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore. By comparison, the United States, two thirds of our roads are paved and we also have highways. So you can think about a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina. You have paved roads and you have highways to get stuff in and out and you don't have that in the Philippines. Werman: Alright. Margolis: Or to a lesser extent. Werman: You've also been researching the airports in the Philippines as well. Margolis: Yeah. So in order to get those big, wide planes that carry all of the supplies, you need a long runway. Basically 10,000 feet. The Philippines has four of those in the entire country. Again, by comparison, the U.S. has 189. Tacloban doesn't have one of those runways. So it can't get one of those long planes. So you can see you need to land the big plane in Manila, unpack it, put it on a smaller plane, and then get it where it needs to go. That takes time. It takes planning. It's a huge challenge. Werman: The World's Jason Margolis, thanks very much. Margolis: You're welcome.